A Survey into the Relationship between
Animal-Engravings and Cupules
Cupules and animal engravings at Twyfelfontein
2.3: Attempts at Interpretation (Page 1)
Rock Art of Twyfelfontein in Namibia, Africa
From the several analogies presented above, it will be clear, as could have been expected, that there is no single explanation for the many different cupule-animal combinations. Also, there will be many instances where there are no definite answers available. Yet, it will be useful to review the possible interpretations to see if some readings apply to the cupule-animal combinations at Twyfelfontein.
In Part 1, I have demonstrated that quite a few rocks at Twyfelfontein could have started off with "primordial" cupules. Yet, animals definitely superimposing cupules have not been reported. However, on stones 4.7 and 4.8.1 there might be some animals that just possibly have been engraved upon existing cupules, but their chronology has to be confirmed by scientific surveys. Also, some of the animal figures on the "Carstenplatte" (Site 4.18) might have been superimposed upon some of the possible cupules in the cluster near its east edge, but there is no proof for this assumption. It is not even certain whether those depressions on the "Carstenplatte" are cultural marks.
In general, the artists at Twyfelfontein followed the almost universal "rule" (Van Hoek 1998) to respect previously executed markings and engravings, although certain panels also show instances of disregard of existing engravings. It must be noted however, that superimposition not always will have been a sign of disregarding the earlier symbolism. Deliberate superimposition may even have been meant to enhance the spiritual meaning and contents of an earlier image or the spirit of the place. Superimposition also may have been used to bestow an image with a new kind of symbolism.
The material reason for marking the rocks at Twyfelfontein, and apparently also those on the routes leading to the place, undoubtedly was the existence of a spring that provides water all year round, also during the dry season. The most plausible explanation for the mass-execution of animal engravings on the rocks and the general ensuing accretion of engravings and paintings all around the place seems to be that subsequent groups recognised the enormous spiritual significance of the place. People repeatedly (re-)sanctified the site by enriching several of its rocks and many other nearby stones with (mainly) animal engravings. However, the importance of the place had also been acknowledged by the execution of cupules during several periods. And, although it is not at all certain, the initial marking of the place and the routes to it might have taken place with only cupules.
Regarding the spatial distribution of cupules and iconic art at Twyfelfontein, some remarkable anomalies emerge. First of all (and surprisingly), the largest concentration of iconic art is not found at or around the spring. In the immediate surroundings of the spring there are only few engraved panels (Figure 14), moreover of rather poor quality and of low visual impact. On the contrary, the major concentration of iconic art (also incorporating the most important panels often with great visual impact) is found in the river gorge 300m south of the spring, as is clearly indicated by column 4E in Figure 62.
Cupule rocks on the other hand are predominant in the vicinity of the spring (columns 4A and 4C in Figure 62. More than 50% of the cupule rocks centre around the spring, as the pie chart in Figure 62 clearly shows. Also, the biggest concentration of cupules is found around the spring, as can be seen in Figure 63 A
It may now be significant that the very panel (4.7) with the biggest number of authentic cupules at Twyfelfontein (Figure 21) is situated below the spring (Figure 14). Also significant is that panel 4.7 has a remarkable distinction between the concentration of cupules on the lower part and the animal images on the upper part. Only a small, horizontal zone in its centre may show some overlap, but it is not clear which tradition originated first, the cupule tradition or the animal imagery.
Panels 4.7 and 4.8 might form the final focal point of a concatenation of cupule stones that may run from rock 1.1, via sites 2 and 3 and across the valley to group A at site 4 (Figure 61). This chain of cupule rocks might have marked an important route from the desert in the west, leading to the only spring in the area (see also Ouzman 2001b: 251).
It is also remarkable that on both habitation plains above the spring (groups C and D in Figure 14 and Figure 61), no instances of randomly arranged cupules have been recorded. All rocks with certain cupules here comprise rows or rosettes of relatively small cupules and most of those cupules seem to belong to a later tradition. The lack of "standard-random" cupules might indicate that the habitation plains were occupied at a different time.
The other cupule stones to the south of the spring (groups E, F, G, H and I in Figure 14; groups B and E in Figure 61) also seem to form an arrangement indicating a possible route, this time from the south, leading up to a waterhole near the "Springbockplatte" (Scherz 1975: 190) or further north to the spring. It is therefore in general possible that a number of the cupules constitute the earliest surviving rock-art at Twyfelfontein, which also served to indicate the routes to the rare water resources in a wide area. If this is true, the animal iconography was then added later.
If indeed this suggested chronology is valid, it is surprising that, especially in view of the many cupules that are present in the area (more than a thousand; one third of the estimated total of all Namibian cupules!), cupules do not form an integral part of the animal engravings at Twyfelfontein. The postulated early existence of cupules did not trigger the use of cupules as a part of the animal imagery. This seems to contradict an early origin of the cupule at Twyfelfontein in general, but it must also be realised that it is virtually impossible that all cupules were executed after the animal engraving tradition had stopped completely.
And yet, cupules are no integral part of the Twyfelfontein animal imagery. Instances of a cupule occupying a position immediately below the tail have not been noted at Twyfelfontein, nor are there animal engravings that feature cupules for natural skin patterning. This latter absence is remarkable, as there are numerous giraffe engravings at Twyfelfontein, some even with superficial pockmarks for skin patterning (for instance at D5). Also elsewhere in Namibia there are numerous giraffe engravings, but few appear to even have pockmarks for skin patterning. A fine spotted giraffe engraving occurs near Kamanjab, an important place where also true anthropic (ringed) cupules are found. However, none of the Namibian giraffe engravings features true cupules as far as could be checked by me in the works by Scherz and in the field.
Also, there are no instances at Twyfelfontein where cupules have been executed to represent eyes. In fact, there hardly is any animal engraving at Twyfelfontein and indeed elsewhere in southern Africa that features a natural or cultural marking for an eye. However, I would like to remind the reader of the zebra with a natural projection indicating the eye at rock C6a at Twyfelfontein. And at Piet Alberts Kopjes near Kamanjab a few animals might have small pecked areas just possibly representing eyes. But the widespread convention to depict eyes at animals in Saharan rock-art, not to mention the addition of an extra, out-of-place eye, seems to be absent in southern African engraving traditions.
Yet, there are some cupule-animal combinations at Twyfelfontein. I refer to the enigmatic cupules that are clearly associated with oryx at Site 4.13 and Site 4.15 (Figure 27), and possibly with other animals at Site 2.1, Site 4.16 and Site 4.18. Such cupules may be contemporary with the animal engravings and may even express a specific relationship with the animals, but, except for the rather special positioning of those cupules, there is no evidence for this. Ouzman (2002) tentatively suggests that the cupules in Figure 27 may represent hock marks.
Also at Twyfelfontein, there might be a specific relation between cupules and spoor engravings. Indeed, in southern Africa, cupules are occasionally associated with spoor or footprint engravings. Sven Ouzman informed me that feline spoor with extra digits are found in South African engravings too. The extra digits may function to identify them as the spoor of Spirit World animals (2002: pers. comm.).
In this respect it is remarkable that Twyfelfontein, with its many animal spoor engravings, only sporadically features this combination. Engravings of human feet seem not to have been combined with cupules on purpose, although at Site 4.6 there is a six-toed human feet quite near a definite cupule (Figure 20), but this may be an accidental combination. However, at Site 2.1 Ouzman (2002) mentions a human footprint that has three cupules in a row engraved at its heel.